Fifty years of the History Teachers’ association of Ireland (HTAI)

Published in Issue 6 (November/December 2013), News, Volume 21

In this ‘decade of centenaries’ Niamh Crowley marks the half-centenary of an organisation that has fostered an up-to-date approach to the teaching of history and which continues to campaign today for its retention as a core subject on the Junior Cert.

A section of the attendance at the summer refresher course organised by the History Teachers’ Association of Ireland in the Dominican College, Eccles Street, 1–5 July 1968. (Irish Times)

A section of the attendance at the summer refresher course organised by the History Teachers’ Association of Ireland in the Dominican College, Eccles Street, 1–5 July 1968. (Irish Times)

The exact circumstances in which the first gathering of history teachers took place with a view to setting up an association illustrates how life has changed in Ireland in the last 50 years. The meeting took place in Dublin on Saturday 8 December 1962. Being a religious feast-day, it was a day on which the vast majority of schools, then run by religious orders, closed, which gave teachers an opportunity to travel to Dublin for the meeting. The fact that it would be necessary to have a holiday in order for schools to close on a Saturday illustrates a point many may have forgotten: that in those days post-primary schools were open for a half-day every Saturday. These two facets of Irish life have changed in the intervening 50 years, but the gathering of 60 teachers who met that day initiated a movement that began in January 1963, grew, thrived, and is still a vibrant organisation today.

The HTAI was set up in a climate of curriculum change and the consequent desire of history teachers to keep up to date with historical research and resources for history teaching. They wanted to be part of a group that would organise lectures and provide them with a forum for debate and discussion about their subject. Initially the organisation and its activities were confined to Dublin, although teachers from outside Dublin joined for the original membership fee of ten shillings. Activities included refresher courses held during the summer holidays, which enabled everybody to participate. One that was run by the Department of Education in Cork in the summer of 1964 led to the setting up of a similar organisation in Cork. The two groups later evolved into a national organisation, with branches around the country organising local activities and a national committee to coordinate the group.

The organisation is still run on a voluntary basis, by teachers in their free time for the benefit of themselves and their colleagues. Some branches have waxed and waned during that time and today there are branches of the association in Cork, Dublin, Galway, Kerry, Limerick and Waterford. At various times there have also been branches in Kilkenny, Meath, the midlands (at different times with centres in Athlone and Portlaoise), north Connacht (at different times with centres in Ballina and Sligo) and Wexford. Teachers join at branch level but are members of the national association as each branch is affiliated.

The highlight of each year’s activities is still the annual conference, which is held in different venues around the country, organised by one of the branches. This year the conference was held in Ballinasloe, Co. Galway, on 4–6 October. During the weekend, the buzz of upwards of 200 history teachers meeting, attending lectures, workshops and field trips, socialising and catching up with their colleagues from around the country was palpable. Sometimes teachers have been granted expenses to attend these conferences, but even when, as at present, there are no expenses, a large number of history teachers don’t want to miss this annual event and are willing to give up their weekend to attend at their own expense. It is a great tribute to the vibrancy of the HTAI and to the benefit that history teachers believe they gain from attending and from being a part of this association.

Media and modes of communication have changed over the past 50 years, and history teachers have changed with them. Texting and email are increasingly used to communicate with members about the association’s activities and to distribute a newsletter to members. The HTAI also has a website [] with information about the organisation, the branches and activities, as well as an archive of articles from our annual journal Stair. In the last two years this website has really come into its own as a resource and a source of information about our current campaign to resist the Minister for Education’s proposal to remove history from the core of subjects for study at Junior Cert. This campaign has been an important aspect of the work of the HTAI over the last two years, during which a delegation went to meet the minister and a major national conference on the issue was held in Collins Barracks, culminating in the appearance of a delegation from the association at the Dáil Committee on Education and Social Protection in June 2013. The HTAI believes passionately in the entitlement of every young person in Ireland to access to a historical education. We sincerely hope that our own 50th anniversary as well as the national ‘decade of centenaries’ will not mark the end of history as a core subject in our post-primary schools. HI

Niamh Crowley is PRO of the History Teachers’ Association of Ireland.


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